Full 2011 Ram Dakota Review
What's New for 2011
The 2011 Ram Dakota gains a couple of important safety features, namely antilock brakes and side curtain airbags, on its list of standard features. The navigation system is no longer available and the off-road-oriented TRX4 model has been discontinued. Also, the truck is now known as the Ram Dakota rather than Dodge Dakota.
It used to be that only hard-working truck people drove pickups. Then came the era when all kinds of people drove pickups but rarely tackled a job more grueling than hauling home a few bags of mulch and a flat of petunias. If you count yourself among the first group and are inclined to turn up your nose at the second, we think you'll find the 2011 Ram Dakota is worth a look.
Of all the midsize pickups on the market, the Dakota comes closest to providing what hard-core truck people expect without going all the way with a more expensive full-size pickup. With a stout V8 engine and a towing capacity of 7,250 pounds (best in class), the Dakota can earn its keep. The only other midsize truck that provides V8 power is the Chevrolet Colorado (and its GMC Canyon twin), but it's woefully outmatched by the Dakota in every way.
For 2011, the Dakota gets antilock brakes as standard (at last) and side curtain airbags. Nevertheless, this Ram leaves much to be desired when it comes to refinement. Though it does have comfortable rear seats with handy under-seat storage bins, this is one pickup that's not designed to pamper its owner, from its trucklike ride to a no-nonsense interior filled with hard, cheap-looking plastics
If, by chance, you're looking for a light-duty pickup that can do double duty as a family car, you'd do well to consider more polished models like the Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. But if you're more interested in towing capacity, V8 grunt and a no-nonsense work truck, the Ram Dakota might still be worth a look.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Ram Dakota is a midsize pickup truck that's offered as either an extended cab or crew cab. Extended-cab models feature a 6.4-foot cargo bed, while crew cab models are fitted with a 5.3-foot bed. There are three trim levels available, including the base ST (extended cab only), the midrange Big Horn (called the Lone Star in Texas) and the top-of-the-line Laramie (crew cab only).
Standard features for the ST include 16-inch steel wheels, foglamps, a dual-position tailgate, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, a front center console, two rear folding seats (extended cab only), a tilt-only steering wheel and a four-speaker sound system with a CD stereo and an auxiliary audio jack.
The Big Horn adds 17-inch alloy wheels, body-colored bumpers and front fascia, a rear under-seat storage system (crew cab models only), keyless entry, full power accessories and cruise control (optional on ST). Big Horn options include full-swing rear doors (extended cab only), fold-away mirrors, a sliding rear window, utility bed rails, a bedliner, a power driver seat, remote ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and an upgraded six-speaker Alpine stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio.
The Laramie gets all the Big Horn's optional features plus 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior accents, automatic headlights, a bedliner, heated front seats, leather upholstery and Bluetooth (optional on Big Horn/Lone Star). Larger outside heated mirrors and rear window defrosters are available on all Dakotas except for the ST.
The Big Horn and Laramie extended cabs can also be equipped with a front bench seat in place of the standard buckets. Optional on the Laramie are 18-inch alloy wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2011 Ram Dakota is powered by a standard 3.7-liter V6 engine that produces 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available with this engine. Rear-wheel drive is standard on all Dakotas, with four-wheel drive being available as an option. Fuel economy registers an EPA-estimated 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined for rear-wheel-drive models, and 14/18/15 mpg for 4WD versions. When properly equipped, the maximum towing capacity of V6 models is 4,950 pounds.
Optional on all but the base ST is a 4.7-liter V8 that produces 302 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard. In performance testing, a 4WD Dakota Laramie crew cab with the V8 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. Estimated fuel economy with the V8 and two-wheel drive is 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. Opting for 4WD drops these ratings to 14/18/15. When properly equipped, a V8 Dakota can tow up to 7,250 pounds.
This year the 2011 Ram Dakota gets four-wheel antilock brakes and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a 4WD Dakota Laramie crew cab came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet -- a good distance for a pickup.
The Dakota hasn't been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedure. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't necessarily comparable) were a perfect five stars for front and side protection with both cab styles, though the extended cab did not get a rear-side rating. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash tests, the extended cab got a second-best "Acceptable" rating while the crew cab Dakota earned a top "Good" rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
If you're a hard-core truck buyer who doesn't necessarily want a stylish interior, you won't have a problem with the Dakota's cabin. Everyone else will probably flinch at the cheap plastics, low-quality switchgear and overall industrial feel. The Dakota's interior layout is actually pretty straightforward and perfectly functional.
The standard bucket seats are very comfortable, while the available power seats offer a wealth of adjustability. The crew cab's rear seat is split 60/40 for added flexibility, and provides a flat load surface with the bottom cushions raised. All crew cab models also feature a pair of handy boxes similar to milk crates, that fold up to keep loose items from rolling around the interior.
While the 2011 Ram Dakota's 3.7-liter V6 is fine for tooling around town, it feels noticeably less robust when driven back-to-back with V6-powered models from Nissan and Toyota. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that we recommend the much gutsier 4.7-liter V8 engine here for anyone looking to carry heavy loads or tow a sizable trailer.
Ram engineers made an effort to improve the Dakota's harsh ride last year with new recalibrated suspension components, though we haven't yet had an opportunity to evaluate the results of those changes. Stopping distances -- already pretty impressive when we tested a 4WD Dakota a few years ago -- should be even better now with the addition of standard antilock brakes across the model lineup.
While Ram's decision to drop the rugged TRX4 model might disappoint serious off-road enthusiasts, most buyers will find the 4WD Dakota's 8 inches of ground clearance and two-speed transfer case more than adequate for most situations.